By "Mike"

Text Reader:

"Aren't you worried about the hazing?", Grady asked nervously.

Justy was driving his big brown pickup toward Woody's. Tonight was their first pledge meeting.

"Nah, Randy tells me it's not that bad", Justy said, trying to reassure his friend. Of course he was worried. It was plenty bad. His neighbor, Sheriff Randy Green, had confirmed what he already knew. Although the pledging period was shorter than the Greek frats on campus, the hazing was as bad as it gets. Lots of drinking, and lots of hard paddling. The prize, once initiated, a Wrangler pledge was finally given his pair of official, brown leather chaps, with the Wrangler "W" branded into the bottom of the right leg. They wore these on the sidelines of football games and other sports, and members rode horseback back and forth with giant flags following touchdowns, etc. which made them the envy of all the Greek frat guys. What the Wranglers DID NOT do, was a lot of the homo shit the other frats were into. There was no jacking off blindfolded in a circle, no "elephant walk" with your thumb in the ass of the guy in front of you, no frozen hot dog up the ass. They didn't strip you naked and drive you blindfolded deep into the woods, and they didn't "spank" you with their thin, shiny frat paddles that decorated their fancy living rooms.

Prior to WWII, Wrangler pledges were actually branded with a silver-dollar-sized circle with a large "W" in it. The brand was placed on the left chest, above the left nipple. The university did not like it, but the practice continued. In addition, the actives used to use their bed slats as paddles on the pledges, in the weeks leading up to the branding ceremony. The bed slats were long and narrow, and breakage was common. In addition, the actives then replaced their slats with the slats from the pledges' beds, forcing the pledges to pay $2.00 per slat for replacements.

During WWII, The Wranglers, like most frats, were disbanded. After the war, they reformed, but a new university administration allowed them back on campus only on the condition that the practice of branding be discontinued. Paddling in those days seemed harmless (it was in most frats) so the university ignored it.

The Wranglers, formed mostly of rodeo team members, Ag and farm and ranch students, still wanted to keep the Greek frat boys out. With the threat of a permanent brand gone, the bed slats gave way to a thicker, wider board that was designed by two Wrangler engineering students to deliver the hardest licks possible without breaking. The resulting paddle was an engineered balance of length, width and thickness, tapering from a full one-inch thickness at the handle down to a one-half inch thickness at the far end. This tapering made it swing much faster, centered the impact onto the middle of the board, and strengthened the handle. The result was a harder, louder swat that rarely broke the paddle. The tradition of extra-hard paddling began, and its reputation kept the number of Wrangler pledges low.

"Look, Grady," Justy said, "it's mostly paddling and drinking."

"I heard they paddle you black and blue. Last year, my roommate Miguel had bruises for a month afterwards. He said that after the picnic he could barely walk."

"Grady, how bad do you want those chaps?"

"Real bad. As bad as you do."

"Well," Justy said pulling through the gate and up the gravel drive to Woody's, "we're gonna get our asses busted, like hundreds of guys before us. It's just that simple. Don't worry. We're doing it together."

"I HATE getting licks.", Grady said. "I used to get licks in school when I tried to use my left hand. And my high school coach's were the worst".

"Yeah, well, someday I'll tell you about my high school coach.", Justy said, remembering Coach Mac.

"Did you bring your five bucks?" Justy asked him.

"Yeah. What's it for?"

"I dunno. I guess we'll find out".

They were five minutes early. Better than five minutes late. They had heard that it was one lick for each minute a pledge was late to a meeting. They knew all of the other pledges and most of the actives as they gathered inside Woody's Roadhouse. The actives all had on their leather chaps, which they would wear at all remaining meetings and pledge lineups. Sure enough, even though the meeting had not started yet, one pledge, Barney Dobbs, was one minute late. Andy Tilden, newly elected Wrangler Foreman, glanced at the wall clock and stood in his Wrangler chaps at the front of the room with his arms crossed.

After greeting the pledges and introducing himself, he moved to the first order of business.

"Gentlemen, I will now reveal to you your Pledge Trainer, who will be responsible for teaching you and guiding you through the pledging process. Please put your hands together for MR. COOPER WEST!"

"Oh SHIT!" Justy whispered to Grady.

"Oh FUCK!" Grady whispered back.

"How the fuck did this happen? It was supposed to be Ivan Parker! Justy whispered.

One of the pledges had been told what to do and stood to clap. The rest followed suit.

Cooper spoke in a loud, authoritative voice, fully enjoying the power he had over the group.

"Gentlemen, everyone is on a first-name basis in this club. Except for you and me. My name is "Mr. West" or simply "Sir." Is that understood?" Justy and Grady glanced at each other sarcastically.

"While you're a pledge, you will be called by your last name. When you become active, we will call you by your first name. Is that understood?

The class nodded and mumbled.


"Yes, SIR!"

"That's better."

Cooper's manner of speaking was to walk from left to right, and right to left at the front of the room while talking to the group. His leather chaps slapped at the fronts of his legs slightly as he turned. Each time he changed direction, you could see that he was carrying his Wrangler paddle in the back of his jeans, inside the waistband, with the blade in his pants and the handle running up his back. The group used to use a local cabinet shop to make the paddles every year, but they were becoming increasingly expensive and the quality had gone down, with the cabinet shop owner using whatever kind of wood he had on hand. Two years prior, Woody had offered to make the paddles in his wood shop for the cost of the wood only, each one cut from a one-inch thick board of solid Texas Live Oak. The boards were run through a planer in his shop before the paddles were cut out to achieve the tapering thickness, as the original Wrangler engineers had specified. Some Wranglers over the summer a few years back helped Woody turn an old an old garage behind the whorehouse into a wood shop, where he made all the tables and benches for the roadhouse. Since he also made all the pledge paddles out there, each to identical specifications, it naturally became known as "Woody's Woodshed", where he often worked during the slow daytime hours. As Woody worked on each paddle, he loved knowing that it was going to be used to tear up some new cowboy's ass, and since a requirement of pledging was to for each pledge to get Woody to sign their paddle, he would be adding his own lick to every butt.


"Y-yes, C-C-Coop...."

"MR. WEST!", Cooper shouted.

"M-Mr. W-W-West."


"Oh fuck. Why's he picking on Barney?", Justy whispered to Grady.

Barney Dobbs was a tall, dark-headed cowboy type, his long legs bowed from years in the saddle working on his dad's farm. Despite being extremely smart, with a 4.0 average, he had stuttered all his life. He was a true gentleman and everybody liked him.


"N-N-No ......"


Justy clamped his hand tight around Grady's knee. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. He was ready to pounce.


Cooper withdrew his paddle from the back of his pants in one motion.


Barney stood to his full six foot frame and nervously made his way to the front of the room. He wore a starched white shirt and well-worn Wranglers, dark brown in the seat and thighs from time in the saddle. The jeans gathered on the ankles of his boots, and the backs of his cuffs were frayed from hard work. He took out his wallet and his Cope can on the way and placed them on an empty table.

"The rest of you guys pay attention. You get one lick for every minute or part of a minute you are late. Pledge Dobbs here was 45 seconds late, according to the official clock, pointing with the paddle to an old-fashioned school clock on the wall. If I were you guys I'd set my watch to it."

Cooper turned Barney's shoulders sideways to the crowd.

"When you're a pledge, 'Bend Over' means grab your ankles. If an active allows it, you can grab hold of the loops at the tops of your boots, and I recommend it."

Cooper was considerably shorter than Barney, but he yelled up to his ear, mocking him


Barney moved into position, sideways to the crowd. His face was red from being singled out, but he spread his long legs and hooked his fingers in the leather loops on the tops of his boots. The position added some stability where there was little. Pulling upward on the boots actually planted your feet on the floor, which Barney would need when


the paddle landed hard and solid across the worn, saddle stained back of his Wranglers. His head flew up when it hit.

The pledges sat in stunned silence as Barney steadied himself and rose to his feet. Pledge Trainer West extended his right hand and Barney nervously shook it, before making his shaky way back to his seat on the bench. His face was as red as his ass had to be.

"Always shake hands afterwards. Always. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir", the pledges murmured, concerned about Barney.


"YES, SIR!", they shouted.

"That's better", Cooper corrected, before continuing on the subject, his paddle in his right hand.

"Alright. While I have it out, let's talk about the Wrangler paddle. The FRONT of the paddle has the smaller "W" brand at the top, near the handle. Your name is just above the brand. You'll notice this side and the edges are varnished. You will never hit or get hit with this side."

Cooper's paddle had his name, the year and the words "PLEDGE TRAINER" running down the paddle in large, black letters. He turned the paddle over to the group. "The BACK of the paddle is raw, unvarnished wood to accept signatures, messages whatever. Just keep the front clean. You'll notice the bigger "W" brand running sideways." He patted the brand with his hand. "When you have the honor of bending over in front of a Wrangler paddle, you just remember that you are now a Wrangler pledge, and you're about to feel the Wrangler brand, the same brand that your Wrangler brothers have felt for one hundred years. " Turning to Barney, still shaking from the lick,

"DOBBS, do you have a new appreciation for the "W" brand?"

"Y-Y-Yes, Sir!", Barney shouted, in a shaky voice.

Cooper replaced the paddle in the back of his pants, once again freeing both of his hands. Most of the actives were outside, hitting the keg that was in its usual spot. After some preliminaries, Foreman Andy took over the meeting.

"Well, gentlemen, it's time to meet your big brothers. When I call your name, you will come up to the front while I call your big brother to come forward."

The Big Brothers had been chosen beforehand by the Pledge Trainer and the Foreman. The "Bigs" had all consented to being big brothers, but they did not know who their pledges were until this moment. There were 21 paddles in a stack on the pool table behind Andy. He picked up the first one and called the name of the pledge whose name was on the paddle. On the bottom of the paddle was the name of the big brother and the year. Andy then called the name of the big brother, who came forward, shook hands with his pledge and took the paddle. The process was repeated until all 21 pledges and their Bigs were lined up.

Justy was excited to get Miguel de la Garza for his big brother! Miguel was a good friend and was Grady's roommate. He was ahead of them by one year, and a new member himself a year before. Grady knew his big brother, Walt, from rodeo, and thought he was a nice guy. Both seemed pleased.

Andy continued.

"Gentlemen, We will now go outside for the branding ceremony."

The pledges looked shocked. Grady was white. This couldn't be happening. There was a bucket of hot coals with a red hot big "W" brand glowing in it. The pledges were lined up and blindfolded by their big brothers. Their shirts were untucked and unbuttoned, and pulled open exposing their bare chests. An active walked down the line applying a bandanna soaked in alcohol to the chest area above the left nipple. Pledge trainer Cooper wore a heavy glove and waved the hot brand close to each man as he walked by so they could feel the heat. All of the pledge paddles were placed on the ground, in front of each pledge, with their raw, unfinished sides facing up. Placing the brand back in the coals, Cooper nodded to the first big brother, who took the glove and brand and carefully branded his blindfolded pledge's paddle with the large "W" brand. At that exact second, an active behind the first pledge let out a painful, gut-wrenching yell followed by fake whimpering. As soon as the brand was removed, another active wiped the fresh brand on the paddle with a wet sponge to stop the brand from spreading. The smell from the wet, sizzling brand smelled like burning flesh.

The pledges were lined up blindfolded in random order so that they did not know how close they were to being "branded". As the first active continued to "whimper" in pain, the next paddle got branded, and a second active yelled out in pain. Justy knew this had to be a trick. Randy had not been branded, and the practice was long abandoned, but the exercise was very convincing. Grady, on the other hand, was getting very agitated. Justy wished he could talk to him. Fortunately he was next. There was no order to it, and Grady somehow made it through without passing out, assuming, like his pledge brothers, that his branding would come later. After the last paddle was branded, the blindfolds came off, to the relief of every pledge.

Andy continued, "Gentlemen, now that you have met your big brothers, and they have branded your paddles, it's time to break those things in in an exercise that dates back almost one hundred years."

Each big brother led his pledge toward the long, low split-rail fence that ran through Woody's back field, a holdover horse hitching rail from the whorehouse days. Each big brother had brought a saddle from the rodeo barn and these were spaced atop the long rail. The pledges went over the rail, with their bellies resting across the seat of the saddles. This was the same rail they would each bend over while a line of actives and alumni would "welcome" them into the fraternity with a lick at the picnic five weeks from now. Miguel directed Justy to his saddle on the rail fence, while Andy shouted,


"Sorry about this, Justy." Miguel said softly. "Empty your pockets."

Randy had told him this much. The pledges' five dollars were combined with five dollars from each big brother. 21 pledges and 21 Bigs for a total of $210.00 that went into an active's Stetson hat. This was an annual swat contest among the big brothers. Whoever gave the hardest swat split the pot with his little brother, who of course, took the hardest swat. There was a lot of beer drinking as the Bigs prepared themselves. Pledge trainer Cooper West, went down the line with an open bottle of Jim Beam bourbon. Stopping at the first pledge,

"Swig it"! The first pledge took a generous swig.

"More!" Two big swigs were required before the bottle was passed to the next pledge. A second bottle was soon needed, and then a third, as each pledge was made to swig a third time. The process took about fifteen minutes, which was plenty of time for the bourbon to take effect. Justy, Grady and the rest of the pledges were light-headed and drunk; a couple of pledges threw up, a combination of the forced bourbon and nerves.

Except for this little swat contest, in Wranglers your big brother was your best friend, and stood as your advocate between you and the pledge trainer, the rest of the board, and the actives. It was his job to make sure you were treated fairly. But tonight, it was also his job to break in your paddle.

"Justy, I'm not swinging for the rafters here." Miguel said quietly, as the first blistering swat rang out down the line, to a round of drunken applause from actives.

"The hell you're not!", Justy replied, slurring his words and staggering slightly with drunken bravado. "Let's go for the cash! I can take a lick. My ass, your paddle. Let's go."

Another hard one. Getting closer. Justy bent over the saddle, with his belly resting across the leather seat and grabbed the lower wooden rail in both hands. It was a solid position.

"Justy .... You don't know what you're asking me to do. I had a nice big brother. He went easy on me. I want to make this easier for you."

"Shut up, Miguel. Let's show this Cooper asshole what we're made of."

Miguel took the paddle and lined up his shot. Paddles were uncommon in Mexico. The Jesuit brothers who taught in his Mexican high school used leather straps. He was a good student and never got the strap but saw it used often and hard. He found out last year what a paddle swung hard could do. He did not want to do that to his friend Justy.

Justy's perfect Wrangler butt was waiting for the paddle. His flat belly rested firmly and motionless across the saddle, as Miguel prepared his shot. The paddle was wider and thicker than Coach Mac's, a difference that Justy could feel across his ass in the moment before Miguel withdrew it and sent it flying back


in an extra hard, loud lick that exploded in fire deep across his butt. There was a loud roar of approval as Justy took in the full impact of it, the fire in his ass climbing in the seconds that followed the swat that no one, least of all Justy, believed Miguel was capable of. Miguel extended his right hand for Justy to shake, and used it to steady him to his feet. Justy had never felt that much pain in his life, and it fully registered in his face. Judging by the cheers, the swat was a definite contender for first place, but there were at least seven or eight swats to go. He immediately worried about Grady, who was about three guys down the fence, waiting for what he hated more than anything. Justy rubbed at his blazing butt but frantically got the words out.

"Oh shit! Grady can't handle one of those!!"

"Don't worry." Miguel reassured. "I talked to his big brother. He's not going for the prize".

Grady's fear of the paddle was well justified. He grew up in rural Arkansas, where his father was pastor in a strange church. His father abused him physically and probably sexually, though he stopped short of telling that to Justy. He was beaten regularly by his father, most often for attempting to use his left hand. He was dyslexic also, and was whipped at home and paddled at the church school he attended for his failure to read. He often went to school with duct tape on his left fingers to prevent him from using his left hand. His mother drank her way through her own abuse, and was too ignorant, drunk and powerless to help Grady. He vowed to stay long enough to protect his younger sister from their father, until it became increasingly obvious that she was becoming just like him—a violent white supremacist, full of hate who, like her father, somehow justified her prejudice with the church. When the family learned that Grady had become good friends with his Hispanic roommate, they kicked him out and told him to never return. He told his sister to call him if she ever needed his help, to which she shouted, "Fuck you and your spick friend!"

Grady went to college on a full scholarship, worked at Best Buy to support himself, and became friends with Justy and Miguel. Joyce and Sandy got him help at the high school with his reading after hours, which improved drastically with therapy. He used his left hand freely for the first time in his life, and discovered he was not worthless.

After the last hard lick from the big brothers, a group of actives went inside Woody's and returned with their decision. The Bigs returned the paddles to the backs of their pledges jeans, which was the preferred method of carrying them, due to their weight and size. It was Foreman Andy who spoke to the long line of pledges.

"Gentlemen, I'm afraid we have a tie. This is a rare occurrence. Apparently we have two very talented big brothers. We will therefore have a tie-breaker between .... Miguel de la Garza and Dennis Hardeman. The rest of you may leave the rail and hit the keg. Gentlemen, do either of you wish to surrender the title?"

"Justy, let's fold.", Miguel pleaded to Justy, who was in agonizing pain, despite a head full of bourbon. Cooper was back with a fresh bottle.


Justy took a healthy swig.

"Fuck it, Miguel. Let's win this thing!"

The other team came to a similar agreement.

"Justy, you sure about this? I can do harder."

"Miguel, my coach used to say 'Second place is the first loser.'"

"You asked for this. Bend over!"

Justy staggered back into position, as Miguel steadied his stance. He put his hand through the leather cord in the handle and spun the paddle until the cord was snug around his wrist. The crowd grew quiet, the other pledges now rubbing their asses as Miguel moved well to the left, fully extending his right arm with the paddle, brand-side down, flat against the seat of Justy's Wranglers. Miguel's face went from compassion to mean determination, as he prepared to swing the thick, tapered paddle as hard as he possibly could. Justy's face went from cockiness to panic as he returned across the saddle and waited for a second, harder lick on top of the first. Miguel drew the paddle way back and high, pausing for a moment before letting out a loud grunt in a mighty swing that came from the muscles in his back.


The heavy swat forced Justy's groin hard into the leather saddle. He let out a loud yell as the crowd broke into roars and whistles of approval. Justy couldn't speak. He shook through tears, as the other pledges gathered around him and patted his back.

The other duo surrendered immediately. Miguel was the winner, and was handed the $210.00, which he split with a shaky, drunk, red-faced, tear-sniffing Justy.

"Why the fuck didn't you do that the first time, Miguel? I would have only gotten one lick!" Justy said angrily, wiping at the tears in his eyes with his sleeve.

"Justy, it's a trick. There's always a tie-breaker. I didn't want your ass to be in it. It's so that the poor pledges who got swatted the hardest would get 'em again. Don't you see the actives are laughing?"

Justy pounded his right fist into the hard leather seat of the saddle in pain and frustration.

"That's not FAIR!", Justy shouted through gritted teeth, his tears and snot landing onto the leather seat of the saddle.

"Welcome to Wranglers, Justy.", Miguel said, "Nothing for the next five weeks is fair."

The meeting ended with the pledges joining the actives around the keg outside. It was a cooling off period, where the formality and rank were dropped and the actives made a real effort to get to know the pledges. The big brothers generally stuck with their pledges, and of course, everyone talked about the licks.

Justy found Barney talking to some other pledges and actives around the keg. All the pledges, including Justy, carried their pledge paddles at all times at meetings, most in the back of their pants, freeing their hands. Cooper had warned them not to carry or display them on campus, because of the anti-hazing policy, but at Wrangler gatherings your paddle had to be available in case an active wanted to use it.

"If you can't have it with you, always leave your paddle in your truck. Locked up", the group of big brothers told them.

"These guys will try and hide it from you, so you'll get licks." All around the back yard, there was the occasional sound of licks for whatever reason, usually followed by laughter. Trading licks was popular. If an active ordered it, two pledges had to trade licks. Or an active would trade with a pledge, or even two actives. With this much alcohol, this many guys, and this many paddles, it was inevitable that they got used.

The pledges had to clean up Woody's Barroom, inside and especially out, after the meeting. Woody watched as the twenty-one young men picked up trash, liquor bottles and carried trash bags, each sporting a wood paddle in the back of their britches, most with a few sizzling licks on their backsides. One guy watered vomit into the grass with a hose. The exercise sobered them up, which the actives knew they needed before driving home or back to school. Miguel pitched in and helped Grady, and the two went back to their apartment.

Woody had watched the entire thing, and as usual, got paid for the liquor and beer. He loved watching each one of his paddles get broken in on each pledge by his big brother He especially loved the sight of Justy's perfect Wrangler butt, and a couple of other favorites, having admired them in person and at length on numerous occasions on his hidden "security" camera in the wall across from the piss trough in the men's room. And the added knowledge that Justy's perfect Wrangler butt had taken the two hardest swats of the night with a paddle he had made was almost too much to take. The dick wasn't bad either, according to the hidden ceiling camera above the trough, though he was not the biggest. Grady and another couple of guys had that title. He had filmed the swat contest from a camera mounted on his upstairs balcony. That one really was a security camera, but Woody always focused it on the rail for the picnic and the swat contest. Woody had a hard-on in anticipation of re-watching the pledges getting their licks, and especially Justy and Miguel. He knew from past experience that despite the high quality equipment, the board in this contest was usually swung so fast that it was barely visible during the swing until it suddenly appeared, as it was absorbed by the guy's butt in a loud BANG. Even frame-by-frame, it was a fast-moving blur.

A sore, exhausted Justy drove himself home. Randy was waiting up for him on his back porch. Justy walked over, full of bourbon and exhausted. His ass had settled into a burning ache that would not subside any further. The damage from the two extra-hard swats was too great. There would be no relief for a long time.

"How'd it go, son?" Randy said cautiously.

"Well, guess who our pledge trainer is."

"I know who it is.", Randy said confidently. "I had breakfast with his dad at the truck stop the other day. It's Ivan Parker."

"WRONG", Justy said. It's Cooper West."

"Oh SHIT! Big Ivan told me they asked Ivan junior." Randy said in disbelief.

"They did. Ivan dropped out for some reason."

"SHIT"., Randy said shaking his head and sighing. "How'd everything else go?"

"Well, the good news is that Miguel de la Garza is my big brother."

"Great! That is good news! Nice guy."

"The bad news is, ... Miguel won the swat contest" Justy said, his hands on his aching ass.

Randy winced in sympathy. He knew what that meant.

"Was there a tie breaker?"

"Of course there was a tiebreaker" Justy replied angrily, his hands were on his ass ever since he got out of his truck. "I got the two hardest swats of the night."

"From Miguel? That doesn't sound like him."

"He wanted to fold. He didn't want to lick me again but I provoked him."

"You stupid shit. You're gonna feel those for the next few days. How did Grady do?

"He's okay. Miguel talked to his big brother. he knows what Grady has been through. Grady's having a good time. Everybody likes him, of course."

"Hold on. I bought you a present" Randy said, getting up and going into the kitchen. He returned with two extra-large bags of frozen peas.

"I got you the giant butt-size from Costco. The other one is for Grady." He tossed one of the pillow-sized bags down on the rocking chair across from him. Justy took one look and eased down onto it, immediately heaving a sigh of relief.

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!" His eyes were closed as the coldness comforted his ass.

"You got any Tylenol? Extra Strength? Take three. Two for your ass, and one for your head in the morning. Next time, call me and I'll drive you or anyone else home. That's why I'm sitting here till everyone is home and safe. No questions asked. You know that."

"I know. I'm sorry" Justy said, standing up and taking the bags with him.

"Goodnight, son."

"Goodnight. THANKS for the peas."

Over the next weeks, pledges had to study information sheets on each active: parents names, home towns, girlfriends, siblings, majors, etc. The actives' names were broken down into several groups each week, to make the task easier. It was the pledge's responsibly to find each active on his list during the week, get quizzed on the information, and obtain his signature on the sheet. A missed question from an active was one lick. An active could paddle you at any time for any reason, or no reason, and they were encouraged to do so, to uphold the Wrangler tradition. On campus or in a public place, this was impossible, so an active would put an "X" by a missed question so that the lick would be given at the next lineup either by the active himself or the pledge trainer.

Woody's Barroom was the best place to hunt for actives during the week, so pledges and actives alike were there most nights. At Woody's of course, a lot of licks were delivered on the spot between actives and pledges, rather than the actives marking their pledge sheets with a number in a circle for a lick or licks at lineup. The pledges actually preferred this, rather than giving Cooper the pleasure of busting their asses in the lineup. The lineups were immediately following the pledge meetings, where the pledges would move outside and stand in a line in front of the rail fence. The pledges would be quizzed by Cooper where a wrong answer meant one lick. Failure to obtain a signature from an active on the list was also one lick. When a wrong answer or no answer was given, Cooper would yell for the pledge to bend over the rail while still in the line. The lick was given, the question was repeated, with the pledge repeating the correct answer. Some guys got as many as five licks before Cooper would move to the next pledge in line. If a guy had studied and knew all the answers, Cooper would keep asking him questions until he got something wrong. What Miguel had said was true. Nothing was fair to a Wrangler pledge. Justy was fairly good at this. He knew all the hometown guys, had friends on the rodeo team and generally knew the information.

Week four was "Double Lick Night", with a wrong answer worth two licks. The fifth and final Tuesday of "Hell Week" was "Triple Lick Night." By then, you knew all there was to know about the actives, or you had an extremely sore ass.

The week-two meeting and lineup was to be similar to the first one, with an obnoxiously drunk Cooper West barely able to stand up. The pledges were seated in the bar for the meeting portion, where Cooper was expected to instruct the group about the history of the Wranglers, and deliver basic information about pledging and becoming full members. The actives, in their chaps, didn't need to attend the pledge meeting, instead slipping outside to the keg, to wait for the lineup. As Cooper swigged from his bottle, several groups of actives would come and go from the men's room, which was unusual since they almost always pissed outside. There was a loud burst of laughter and they would always leave laughing.

"What the fuck are you all laughing at?" Cooper slurred as a couple of actives exited laughing, and headed to the back yard. Cooper turned to the group of pledges and slurred,

"Do you assholes know what they're laughing at?"

"Maybe you'd better check it out, Mr. West." Justy said, trying not to laugh.

Once Cooper made it to his feet, the pledges snickered as he stumbled to the men's room, where one of the pledges had printed out a facial shot of Cooper and taped it to the back of the piss trough. It had been repeatedly pissed on, with no dry area for Cooper to remove it. There was a loud growl from the men's room as Cooper stumbled out. As expected, Cooper passed up his chance to laugh at the prank and himself and therefore bond with the pledges.

"Alright you fuckwads! On your feet! Outside. Line up on the rail!"

There was a shuffling of boots as the pledges moved outside and stood along the low fence, which they knew was for them to bend over for licks. They knew to always line up in alphabetical order in a lineup. Their big brothers knew what was about to take place and stood on the other side of the rail, directly across from their little brother. Lineups were tough by design. The big brothers were not there to prevent or interrupt the hazing, having been through it themselves, but they were there to support their pledge through it. Cooper had his paddle in his right hand and an open bottle of bourbon in the other. He slowly made his way down the line, ordering each pledge to take three swigs. An active followed him with a pouch of tobacco, giving each pledge a large wad to chew. This was not a choice. This was standard Wrangler hazing, and the bigs allowed it. The bottle drained quickly and another was brought out, with the pledges having to swig around the wad of chew in their mouths. Cooper should have started in on the pledge sheet questions. That was his job. Instead, he demanded to know who had "defaced" him in the urinal.

"WHO THE FUCK DID IT?" Cooper demanded to the group. There was no response.

"ALRIGHT. WE'LL DO THIS ANOTHER WAY! BEND OVER THE RAIL!" The pledges did as they were told, bending over the rail as their big brothers stood and watched from the other side of the rail. There were no saddles this time, as there had been the first night and would be at the picnic. Most of the actives quit their conversations and moved closer to watch the licks. Licks will always draw a crowd. Cooper stood behind pledge number one.



The liquor did not hinder Cooper's ability to give a hard lick.

"KA --- WHAAAAAAAAAACK !!!" on butt number two.

"KA --- WHAAAAAAAAAACK !!!" on the third butt. The group had vowed to stand in solidarity, as the licks continued down the line. After Cooper had delivered his twenty-first lick, he once again confronted the group.


There was some conferencing between big brothers and the pledges, but no one spoke out.

"KA --- WHAAAAAAAAAACK !!!" Cooper started back down the line. This time a few of his swats were met with loud yelps of pain.




The futility of the situation became obvious, with no help from the big brothers.

Finally, it was Barney Dobbs who spoke.

"I-I-I d-d-dit it, M-Mr West."

Always a gentleman, this was out of character for Barney Dobbs. Justy knew he didn't do it.

"You D-D-D-Dobbs?" Cooper slurred, moving behind him. Barney's big brother stood across from him, holding his shoulders for the coming set of licks and whispering words of encouragement in his ear. Despite the cleverness of the piss-soaked portrait, not to mention the bravery it took to install it, the big brothers knew a hard paddling was coming, and was the standard Wrangler remedy for just about anything.



Cooper got in two licks before another pledge shouted out.


Cooper didn't hear it and was preparing his third lick on Barney's flaming backside, when an active came from behind him and interrupted his back swing.

"DOBBS YOU STUPID FUCK! STAND UP!" Barney rose to his feet, sniffing back tears, as Cooper moved to the guilty pledge who by now, had retrieved a role of scotch tape from his front pocket and bravely stuck a finger through it.. Drunk as he was, Cooper started to sound like an actual pledge trainer.




Barney shook his head no.

"DO IT!"

Barney stood firmly in place.

"HE GETS FIVE FROM ME THEN.", Cooper shouted. Cooper tried to push Barney aside to take his place.

"It's okay, Barney", Roy Oatman said over his shoulder. "Thanks for trying to take the heat for me."

Barney looked at Cooper and Back at Roy as he took his own paddle in his right hand.

"S-S-Sorry, Roy. I'm d-d-doing this to save you a c-c-couple of licks."




The licks were hard enough to satisfy Cooper. Barney moved aside and the next pledge took his turn.


Then the next,


Justy spoke to Miguel across the rail as the first swats rang out.

"Roy can't take that many swats! I thought the limit was seven! Is his big brother just going to stand there?"

"Justy." Miguel whispered. "Watch what happens."

After five hard swats rang out on poor Roy's ass, his big brother interrupted the pledge who was handed the paddle.


The pledges stood motionless as the big brother crossed over the rail and bent over next to Roy, squeezing his shoulder in a show of support. The pledge brother with the paddle looked to the other bigs who nodded to him to proceed. The custom of taking a lick for another pledge or active was a time-honored tradition in Wranglers. While a set of licks, once ordered by a pledge trainer or foreman, could not be excused, and a less-than-Wrangler-hard lick was out of the question, another brother or brothers could volunteer to take a lick to help him out. Roy's big brother had felt that the five licks that Roy did receive was justified and appropriate, and waited till after the fifth lick to offer to take three for him. Several other big brothers also crossed over the rail offering to take a swat for Roy, but they soon ran out of takers, just short of the twenty one that were needed.

"I'LL TAKE ONE!" Justy shouted, moving into position. Once the lick was given,


Another two volunteer pledges stepped up to complete the sentence. Cooper never ended the lineup. He was too drunk. Pledges and actives alike watched as he barked drunken questions at no one in particular, his paddle in his right hand and an open bottle of bourbon in the other. At some point, Cooper lost his footing and fell over backwards and the meeting fell apart. He couldn't stand up and no one would help him up. He was like Jett Rink at the banquet, yelling at an emptying crowd as the pledges and their big brothers slipped away and joined the actives around the keg.

Tonight, Woody would re-watch all of the pledge's licks late into the night on his monitor upstairs, stroking as Roy took five hard swats before the big brothers and other pledges stood in for him.

Justy found Foreman Andy Tilden talking to some actives about Cooper. He motioned Andy away from the group.

"I need to talk to you."

Andy could tell this was serious.

"Okay. Not here. Wait for me in the men's room. Everybody is pissing outside anyway."

Fortunately for Woody, nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Justy in the men's room alone, waiting for Andy to enter, cradling his scorched backside as he walked on the toes of his boots. He would be in frame-by-frame heaven. Justy waited about five minutes for Andy to enter. He spent the time cussing to himself and rubbing his ass, not believing his ass could hurt that much. Finally, Andy entered, and they both kept their voices down.

"Andy, how long have we known each other?", Justy asked quietly.

"All our lives.", Andy answered.

"Can I talk to you as a friend and not in this Foreman / pledge shit?"

"Sure. Of course. I know what you want to talk about. Barney."

"Are you going to allow this shit? I'm not talking about the licks. Barney can handle that. But Cooper won't stop humiliating him. He keeps calling him a "retard" His stuttering only gets worse when he gets put on the spot. Are you going to allow that?

"No, but I couldn't call him on it in front of the pledges. The board is trying to figure out what to do about him"

"Great pick you've got there. Who the fuck made that decision?"

Andy sighed. His voice barely above a whisper.

"It was supposed to be Ivan Parker. That's who we wanted. But Ivan dropped out at the last minute and that left Cooper."

"SO ...", Justy said nodding. Cooper's got something on Ivan. That figures. Ivan would have been a great pledge trainer."

"Justy .... you've got to watch yourself. This is only the second week. It gets easier. Last week was supposed to scare the hell out of the pledges with the branding and the swat contest. Tonight was supposed to be more about getting to know the actives and each other. Think about it, Justy. If we treated each other this way for five solid weeks we'd never come out of it as friends."

"And another thing.," Justy whispered, poking Andy in the chest. "You guys go easy on Grady. Grady was abused by his drunk father for eighteen years until he finally left home. He's on his own. The bastard beat him all the time and even duct-taped his fingers together so he couldn't use his left hand at school. If all this shit is about pain and humiliation, Grady could write a book about it."

"Justy, I need you to be my eyes and ears with the pledges. Call me anytime if there's a problem or anything I should know. There are going to be some licks. This is Wranglers. Barney and Grady are going to have to deal with that like everybody else. But if things get out of hand, or somebody gets their feelings hurt, I want to know about it."

"Well, Andy, that's what I'm doing now! Cooper is drunk all the time and downright abusive. Isn't he supposed to be teaching us about The Wranglers? He hasn't taught us shit. And he's gonna kill himself in that Corvette. I just hope he doesn't take anybody with him. How would that look for The Wranglers? He's got to go, Andy. Some guys are talking about dropping out because of Cooper. After one fucking week. And after tonight??!"

"Okay Justy. Let's go back outside. Let me take all this back to the board. And thank you for telling me about Grady."

"And make Cooper let Barney text his answers" Justy said. " He can text faster than you can talk."

Justy moved outside the door and held it open for Andy to walk through.

"SIR! AFTER YOU, SIR!" Justy shouted, as Andy rejoined the others at the keg. They walked around a passed-out Cooper West in the back yard, bourbon in hand, where he had fallen during the swats. Andy bent down to get his car keys out of his pants pocket. Barney Dobbs, always the gentleman, who Cooper had humiliated earlier, came up and knelt down to check on him. Barney grabbed his phone from his pocket and fired out a text in what could not have taken more than two seconds and turned his phone so the other two could read it.:

"Will you all help me get him to his feet and inside? We can't just leave him out here."

Justy and Andy, both amazed that anyone, much less Barney Dobbs, would care, helped Cooper to his feet and dragged him inside and laid him down on an empty table. Somewhere in the process he pissed himself. He woke up furious the next morning that he couldn't find his keys, which Woody gave him only when he was satisfied that he could drive.

It was during week three of pledging that Justy ran into Ivan Parker, the guy who withdrew his name from running for pledge trainer, at the gas pumps at the truck stop..

"How's pledging going, Justy?"

"Well, my ass is black and blue. With a splash of purple and yellow. Fucking Cooper West."

"Mine looked like that two years ago.", Ivan said, smiling sympathetically.

"Ivan, how come you're not my pledge trainer?"

Ivan paused, removing the pump from his pickup and replacing it on the hook.

"Doesn't matter. What difference would it make?"

"What difference? Cooper's a fucking lunatic!"

"Justy, if it was me giving you all those licks, you'd be saying the same thing about me."

"No. You dropped out for a reason. Are you going to tell me what it was?"

"Look, Justy.", Ivan's voice got down to almost a whisper. "My family has been growing hay for his family for over thirty years. They buy all we can produce. Well, Cooper showed me a contract from a hay farmer in New Mexico who can grow it, bale it, deliver it and stack it cheaper than we can. The farmer had already signed it. It just needed Mr. West's signature."

Justy sighed and nodded, He knew it had to be something big to derail a guy like Ivan.

"So,... I dropped out, Cooper became pledge trainer, and Mr. West and my dad signed a five-year contract at a fair price."

"What a prick. I'll bet the other contract was a fake.", Justy said.

"I got scared, Justy. Dad has not been well. We don't have another buyer. At least we have one for the next five years. My dad wants to build another hay barn to hold it. Please don't tell anybody about this."

"I won't, Ivan. You did the right thing."

"You headed home?"

"I wish. I'm going to Woody's to get signatures. And ..."' sighing heavily, "Grady and I have to get Woody to sign our paddles before Tuesday night. Might as well get it over with. He's meeting me out there after his shift at work. Here, will you sign my pledge sheet? You're on it this week."

"Sure," Ivan said, adding his scribble next to his name. "I don't need to ask you any questions. We've known each other since we were kids. I'll follow you out to Woody's. I got paid today. I'll buy you guys a beer."

The two had just gotten out of their trucks at Woody's and were nearing the front porch when they heard a loud


coming from inside the open screen door. The familiar sound was followed by raucous laughter.

"Fuck. So whose ass do you suppose that was?" asked Ivan.

"I don't know. But it sounds like one of Woody's licks."

The two entered, and joined a group of pledges and actives at the long bar, each with a boot on the rail that ran down it near the floor. One of his pledge brothers was red-faced and jumping from foot to foot, while Woody signed his paddle with a thin Sharpie. Ivan bought them each a beer, dropping a twenty-dollar bill into the jar and making change. There were some non-Wrangler customers in the bar, a couple of truck drivers from the truck stop. They had turned their chairs earlier so they could watch the guys getting licks from Woody and each other. They'd seen about five or six licks so far, shaking their heads after each one. Several of the actives were whispering together, as soon as Justy joined them.

"Hey Justy!", one of them said. "See those two truck drivers over there? We want you to go over there and ask one of them to give you a lick with your paddle."

"Oh come on guys! Don't make me do that!" Justy pleaded. "I'm already going to get a lick from Woody!"

"Justy ..."


"Justy, if you don't do it, we're going to give you five. Right here, right now. Plus, you've got Woody's lick coming. One lick from one of those guys or five from us. It's up to you."

They were serious. Justy continued pleading, but they stood firm. Justy took a big swig of beer and bravely walked over to the table, as the group of actives started snickering.

"Excuse me, guys.", he said, loud enough for the actives to hear, " I'm pledging a fraternity, and those pricks over there would like for me to ask one of you to please give me a lick with this." He withdrew his paddle from the back of his jeans and offered it to them, handle-first. One of the men, a younger black man, answered, chuckling.

"Uh, I don't know guy. I, uh ..."

"Please guys," Justy said, closing his eyes, frustrated and embarrased, "If you don't do it I'm gonna get five from them".

"I'll do it." It was the second guy, a big, bearded, bear type. "You want it just like the rest of 'em we've seen tonight?"

"Yes, sir. Please.", Justy said, adding "And they say if it's not hard enough, I'll get the other five anyway."

The guy accepted the paddle, as Justy removed his wallet and cope can full of chili petines and bent over, hooking his fingers in the leather loops of his boots. As he turned sideways to the bar, he mouthed a giant "FUCK YOU!" to the laughing group of actives. The trucker moved behind him and lined up his shot, positioning the paddle flat across Justy's ass and taking a few practice swings, stopping just short of Justy's ass.

"OTHER SIDE!", one of the actives yelled, "The side with the brand!"

The trucker flipped the paddle over and returned it to Justy's ass. When he was ready, he drew it way back, like he had seen the actives and Woody do earlier.

"Here goes, man."


It was a great lick, and the actives slapped the bar and laughed in approval. Justy stood up and thanked the guy, and took back his paddle. Someone threw him the sharpie. Justy turned to the trucker and offered him the unfinished side of the paddle.

"Here, sir. Would you please sign it?" Justy asked, reacting to the familiar pain in his ass. The trucker added his signature to the growing collection on the paddle and the two shook hands.

"No hard feelings. man.", the trucker said, handing the paddle back to Justy. "Nice friends you've got there."

Justy returned to the bar, and to the jabs and pats on the back from the actives. One of the actives waved his hat like a fan at Justy's ass. A short time later, one of the actives delivered two fresh cold beers to the two truckers, as the others, including Justy, offered a long-distance toast. Justy took his place at the bar with the actives, his foot on the boot rail. He was one of the guys. The fiery pain in his ass was so familiar now that it was getting easier to hide it. Just a few more weeks to go.

Just then, the screen door slammed and Grady walked in, still in his Best Buy blue polo shirt and khakis. He had put his paddle in the back of his khakis once he got out of his truck.

"GRADY!" the group at the bar shouted, motioning for him to join them. He walked over just as two or three actives were huddled together.

"Hey guys:, Grady said, removing the paddle from the back of his pants and placing it on the bar. "Woody, I'm here for my lick. Let's get it over with."

"Wait a minute, Grady", one of the actives whispered, "See those two truckers over there? "We want you to go over there and ask one of them if you can give him a lick with your paddle." The rest of the group, including Justy, started laughing, egging him on.

"Aw, please guys! Don't make me do that! No way", Grady said, looking over at the two truckers and shaking his head.

"It's okay Grady"., Justy said. "They made me ask one of them to give me a lick. I've greased the skids for you."

"Well, Grady", one of the actives said as he picked up Grady's paddle from the bar, "Would you rather have five licks from us?"

Once again, the group of actives laughed loudly as Grady took his paddle back and approached the truckers. They laughed even harder when Grady turned to them and shouted,


The bear type who paddled Justy said to the other one, "Here we go again. You want to handle this one?"

"Excuse me, guys", Grady said nervously. "That group of assholes would like for me to ask you if I could please give one of you a lick with this paddle".

The truckers and actives, who were now great bar friends, laughed and shouted at each other until one of the truckers spoke over the loud laughing.

"What happens to you if we say "'no'?"

"They're gonna give me five over there.", pointing toward the actives, one of whom grabbed Justy's paddle and slapped it firmly against his palm.

The actives laughed even harder as the bear type stood up, and agreed to it.

"They also said", Grady said cautiously, "If it's not hard enough, I'll get the other five anyway."

"Well, "Mr. Best Buy", let's see what you can do with that thing!"

The bear trucker yanked up the back of his pants and removed a thick wallet from his right back pocket. He was a big man, about two hundred and fifty pounds, with a stocky build, and presented a large, wide ass in his beige canvas Carhaart pants. He was bent over, grabbing the edge of one of the long tables. Grady took the paddle, in his left hand, and got ready to swing. He wanted it to be just hard enough to satisfy the actives, without tearing the guy's ass up. He swung it hard, landing a nice, medium-hard swat, what a Wrangler would call a "six".


The actives nodded and applauded their approval, mainly impressed that Grady was able to convince the guy to do it. The trucker seemed disappointed.

"Is that the best you can do, "Best Buy"? I barely felt that!" He then stood up and shouted to the actives over the noise.


The actives huddled and one of them quickly shouted "DO-OVER!"

The trucker bent over again, this time spreading his boots even wider.

"Okay...", Grady said, tightening his grip on the paddle, flat against the stocky, solid ass.

The room got quiet as Grady again readied his aim.


The bar exploded into applause and laughter as the trucker slowly stood up, red-faced and turned to Grady. Grady didn't know what to expect, until the bear nodded his approval, shook his hand and jokingly shot the actives the finger with both hands. The two groups merged into one at the bar, and the guy signed Grady's paddle. They stayed late into the night, well past closing time, while Woody reaped the profits. Justy, Grady and the trucker were the stars of the night, each enjoying the camaraderie and approval of the actives. The group was drunk and getting ready to disperse when Justy and Grady remembered why they had gone to Woody's in the first place. They looked at each other, took a last swig of beer, and turned to Woody.

"Woody. Will you sign our paddles please?"

Woody had waited for this moment, and had shot multiple loads just thinking about it. Grady was a nice, husky piece of ass. But Justy...that was the best there was.

"Let me see that thing, " Woody said, taking Justy's paddle and enjoying the moment and feeling the remains of the wet hard on in his jeans from Justy's nice lick from the trucker, and the resulting conversation it produced.

"I think I remember making this one. It's got a couple of knots in it. Tough piece of wood. This one's gonna hurt, Justy."

Justy laughed nervously, moving toward the middle of the room.

"Yeah Woody. Unlike your other licks."

The truckers once again turned their attention to Justy, as he got in position.

"Hang in there, man." the bear trucker said to him.

"We're with ya buddy," his companion said, as Woody prepared to swat the best, solid Wrangler butt in the whole fucking club.


Justy rocked forward as his butt absorbed the full impact of the heavy swat.

"Holy fucking SHIT!" the trucker who had paddled him said. The other guy just stood there, shaking his head in disbelief. "You guys are fucking crazy!"

Justy rose to his feet, his face red and his breathing hard. He turned to shake hands with a trembling Woody, who had just given the best lick of his life. Woody watched with an evil grin as Justy reacted to the fiery pain that was climbing and intensifying deep in his butt. He channeled the pain as best he could as he walked back to the bar. Grady handed Woody his paddle. Grady had enough drunk bravado in him that he bravely moved to center and took his position, bent over, fingers firmly in his boot loops, eyes straight ahead. As the room quieted, Woody took the paddle and smacked the shit out of Grady's ass.


Grady couldn't hide his reaction as the fire in his ass raged on. He had enough alcohol to stand up and let out a manly

"YEEEEOOOOOW!!!" and raise his fists in the air like Rocky at the top of the steps. Woody gave the same hard lick to everyone. Including Grady. The group applauded Grady as he bravely walked back to the bar, thanking Woody and shaking his hand. He was a champ and no longer afraid. Someone slid the sharpie down the bar and Woody added his ornate signature to the neck of each paddle.

"Woodrow James Morrison?", Justy said, incredulously, taking his hands off his flaming ass long enough to take back his paddle. "Your name is Woodrow?"

"You want two licks, Justy?", Woody said, handing him and Grady a shot of Bourbon.

"N-No thanks. One's plenty. Woodrow." He tossed back the shot, as the fire raged in his ass. The two truckers were saying their goodbyes and preparing to leave. Woody's radar picked up that this was a hookup from the truck stop.The one who paddled Justy said,

"I don't know what club this is, but I'm sure as fuck glad I'm not a member."

The group laughed and exchanged handshakes as the guys settled their tabs and dispersed into their pickup trucks.

Once again Randy was waiting up for Justy to return. He was always relieved when he heard his diesel pickup in his driveway, and that everyone else made it home safely. Justy tried to avoid Randy but he heard him call his name. Justy came over and sat down, clearly exhausted and once again, good and drunk.

"Well, I got Woody to sign my paddle tonight.", he said, exhaling as he sat down, putting on his best sober act.

"Oh shit. I know what that means. How are you doing?"

"My ass is one giant bruise", Justy said, slurring the words.

"I've been there, son. Hang in there. It'll be over soon."

"Did you know his name was Woodrow?", Justy slurred, handing him the paddle to look at. Randy laughed.

"Yeah I did. It's on his whorehouse papers."

"I had to ask a total stranger, a trucker in the bar, to please give me a lick with that thing."

"NO SHIT!", Randy exclaimed wide-eyed. "Did he do it?"

"Yep. If he didn't, I was going to get five from the actives at the bar. You bet your ass he did it. It was one of the hardest licks I've gotten so far. There's his signature"

"Then, they sent Grady over to ask the same guy if Grady could give him a lick!"

Randy's eyes widened. It was Wrangler hazing at its best.

"Did he let Grady do it?"

"Yeah! Same deal. If he didn't, Grady was gonna get five licks. And it was a hard one too."

"Welcome to Wranglers, Justy.", Randy said, shaking his head, examining the paddle.

Randy changed to a dead serious tone.

"What'd I tell you about driving drunk? Why the fuck didn't you call me?"

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm not that bad. Really. I just want to go to bed."

Justy stood up, yawning, and staggered slightly toward the steps.

"I mean it Justy.", Randy said, still holding Justy's paddle for emphasis. "I've told you this before. Dave and I are both on duty on Wrangler nights and are prepared to drive anybody home afterwards, no questions asked. You hear?"

"Can you ever like, not be a cop?", Justy shouted in anger. "You know how much they make you drink. Why do you have to get all "Johnny Law" over it. It was your idea for me to join this fucking club!"


"Look. I said I'm sorry, okay?" Justy said, defensively. "Yes, I'm drunk! I hurt really badly and I don't need a lecture from you!"

"Justy! Don't you take that tone with me, you hear?" Randy demanded, as Justy left the porch for home.

"Look! You're not my dad, okay!" Justy yelled over his shoulder, as he crossed the driveways, opened his back door and turned off his porch light.

Randy sat in silence for a few minutes, petting Daisy who was curled up in his lap. The tears surprised him. He didn't remember the last time he cried, but they filled his eyes and slowly rolled down his cheeks. After a while, Justy's porch light went on again and his door opened. Justy crossed the driveways again, this time bare-chested, in drawstring pajama bottoms. He was barefoot. He stopped at the base of the porch and looked up at Randy, who had wiped his eyes and cleared his throat.

"Randy. I'm sorry for what I said. I didn't ...."

"I know. It's okay...."

Justy came up the steps and moved behind Randy's rocking chair. He put his hands on his shoulders and massaged them hard. He bent down to speak softly in his ear. He was crying too.

"Please don't stop worrying about me. I need you to get me through this and a whole lot more. I don't know where I'd be if you were not in my life."

Randy reached up and squeezed his arm.

"It's okay, Thanks for coming back over. Goodnight, son."

"Goodnight. Don't stay out here too late."

Justy left the porch and returned home, as Randy and Daisy went inside.

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